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It's getting hotter! NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) just released a short dramatic video stating that 2020 tied 2016 for the warmest year on record. They also released an article pointing out that while the last few decades have shown a "dramatic warming trend", the last seven years have been the warmest seven years on record.

The NASA video (under 1 minute):

It is expected that Earth's temperature will continue increasing (climate change!), and that records will continue to be broken. Rising temperatures are resulting in a loss of sea ice, sea level rise, longer and more intense heat waves, shifts in plant and animal habitats, etc. Temperatures are increasing due to human activities, specifically emissions of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane.

Are humans up to the challenge of climate change? We have no choice.

It turns out that people experiencing a major depression have differences in their gut microbiome (community of microbes) when compared to healthy people who are not depressed. A persistent and prolonged period of extreme sadness or depression is called a major depressive disorder (MDD).

A team of researchers (in both China and the US) analyzed stool samples from 311 people  with either MDD or healthy and not-depressed (the control group). They used modern genetic sequencing to see what microbes were in the stools. They found differences in 47 bacterial species, 3 bacteriophages (a virus that infects bacteria), and 50 fecal metabolites - which suggested to the researchers that depression is characterized by gut microbiome problems (it's imbalanced or out of whack).

There actually was a "signature composition" of gut microbes in the depressed persons, all of whom were unmedicated. They found higher levels ("increased abundance") of 18 bacterial species in people with MDD (mainly belonging to the genus Bacteroides) and 29 were less common (mainly belonging to Eubacterium and Blautia), when compared to healthy persons.

The researchers point out that other studies also find the gut microbiome to be imbalanced in MDD, and there are animal experiments showing that the gut microbiome has a role in causing MDD (e.g. transplanting gut microbes from a depressed person into a rat results in the rat exhibiting depressive behaviors).

Excerpts from The Scientist: Distinct Microbiome and Metabolites Linked with Depression

The human gut microbiome is a world in miniature, populated by a chatty community of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa nestled within various gastrointestinal niches. Over the past decade, researchers have linked disturbances within this complicated microbial society to a variety of diseases. Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one such condition, but the studies have been small and the findings imprecise.   ...continue reading "Gut Microbiome Is Altered In Persons With Major Depression"

It is shocking that the same virus can result in the majority of people with COVID-19 having minimal or no symptoms, but others really suffering or even dying from it. We now know that after developing a COVID-19 infection, some people seem to be ill with symptoms for weeks and even months. This has been referred to as "long-COVID" or "long-haul COVID".

How frequently does this occur? The UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) is looking into this issue, and currently estimate that: 1) About 1 in 5 respondents testing positive for COVID-19 exhibit symptoms for a period of 5 weeks or longer, and  2) About 1 in 10 persons testing positive for COVID-19 exhibit symptoms for a period of 12 weeks or longer. (That's a lot!!!)

Using data from the ONS Infection Survey on hundreds of thousands of people in the UK, the report found that during the last week of November 2020 about 186,000 people in England were living with Covid-19 symptoms that had persisted for between five and 12 weeks. The most commonly reported symptom was fatigue, followed by a cough, headache, loss of taste, loss of smell, sore throat, fever, shortness of breath, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Coronavirus emerging from cells.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) also discusses "long-term effects of COVID-19" on its web-site. They mention the most common long-term symptoms as: fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint pain, chest pain, but also list other symptoms such as "brain fog" (difficulty with thinking and concentration), intermittent fevers, headaches, and also less frequent more serious long-term complications (e.g. kidney injury, inflammation of the heart muscle).

The good news is that people generally report slow improvement over time. There are now popular support groups on Facebook (e,g, Survivor CorpsCovid-19 Support Group (have it/had it), Long Covid Support Group, and Long Haul Covid Fighters). Fiona Lowenstein started a Covid-19 support group (Body Politic Covid-19 support group) for people living with the virus. Medical centers that are treating long-term COVID symptoms (e.g. NYU Langone).

Another helpful source of information is Paul Garner, professor of infectious diseases at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He has documented his battle with long-term Covid-19 symptoms in the British Medical Journal blog (also June 23 follow-up), and the need for "pacing" during recovery to prevent relapses. [twitter.com/paulgarnerwoof?lang=en ]

We are still in the early days of understanding COVID-19 and its effects. A year ago we were only aware of an emerging virus in China. And now it's global pandemic.

It's hard to believe in this month of cold and snow, but climate scientists are saying that 2020 is almost tied with 2016 to be the hottest year on record. This past decade has been the hottest ever recorded, and the last five years were the hottest since 1880.

Note that with each new broken heat record, the baseline is now set higher. The heat increases have no end in sight, and so the future will be hotter. This is climate change change.

One example: This summer Phoenix, Arizona experienced a record-breaking 145 days above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The city also had 15 days above 115 degrees F (double the previous record).

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From National Weather Service, October 14, 2020

At what point will it be too hot for humans? It's up to us - governments, corporations, individuals - to make decisions to control what happens in the future and to stop the runaway heat increases.

Yale Climate Connections (YCC) has all sorts of climate related articles.  (Example:November 2020 among warmest Novembers on record, NOAA and NASA report)

Graph of global (land and ocean) temperature increases over time from 1880 to 2020 at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

Excerpts from NPR: 2020 May Be The Hottest Year On Record. Here's The Damage It Did

With just a few weeks left, 2020 is in a dead-heat tie for the hottest year on record. But whether it claims the top spot misses the point, climate scientists say. There is no shortage of disquieting statistics about what is happening to the Earth. ...continue reading "This Was A Really Hot Year"

Many people have noticed that marijuana (cannabis) has gotten stronger over the past decades, and now a study agrees. The THC in marijuana is what gives a person a "high", and those levels have really increased since 1970. That means what was smoked at Woodstock back in1969 was much milder than what is being smoked today.

An international group of researchers reviewed studies of THC and CBD concentrations in cannabis from 7 countries for the past 50 years. They found that THC (delta‐9‐tetrahydrocannabinol) concentrations  increased steadily over the years, but the cannabidiol (CBD) concentrations remained stable. They attribute this to high-THC strains of cannabis being sold nowadays.

The researchers point out that studies show that: "Human laboratory studies show that THC administration causes dose‐dependent increases in intoxication, cognitive impairment, anxiety and psychotic‐like symptoms." Which means - be careful when smoking marijuana! It's strong!

By the way, there are many terms used to describe cannabis or marijuana nowadays, including weed, pot, and chronic.

From Science Daily: Cannabis strength soars over past half century

New research shows that over the past 50 years street cannabis across the world has become substantially stronger carrying an increased risk of harm.  ...continue reading "Marijuana Is Much Stronger These Days"

If you're a hunter or eat wild-caught game (deer, elk, moose, reindeer), then you should be concerned with chronic wasting disease (CWD). Chronic wasting disease is an always-fatal prion disease similar to "mad-cow disease" (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in cattle.

In chronic wasting disease there is a long incubation period, followed by the brain become progressively like a sponge - riddled with holes, along with deterioration in brain function, behavioral changes, and eventually death. A horrible slow death. There are no treatments or vaccines.

It turns out that chronic wasting disease is slowly spreading and infecting wild game across the United States (26 states) and 3 Canadian provinces. [Also detected in Finland, Norway, South Korea, and Sweden.] The concern is that this disease will jump to humans, especially in people who eat contaminated meat.

A research center monitoring the situation and publishing information and research on its site is CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease and Policy). Make sure to look at the Tweets (Twitter).

One scary thing about CWD is that once it gets into the soil, it stays there for years, and high heat, disinfectants, and radiation don't kill it. Yikes! Dr.Zabel at the Colorado State Univ. Prion Research Center suggested a few years ago that controlled burns (fires) of infected fields or areas could eliminate the prions left behind by infected animals (from animal mucus/saliva, urine, and feces, and decaying carcasses) on plants and soil.

An article with advice for how hunters can protect themselves, and a map of where CWD is found in the US.: 5 Ways Hunters Can Prevent Spreading Chronic Wasting Disease

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has several chronic wasting disease pages, including prevention and transmission.

Here is some of what CIDRAP says on their site about CWD:

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a prion disease that affects several cervid species: deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer, and moose. CWD was first identified in 1967 in a captive mule deer living in a Colorado research facility. In 1981, CWD was detected for the first time in a wild cervid. Since these initial detections, CWD has been identified in 26 states and three Canadian provinces. It has also been detected in Finland, Norway, South Korea, and Sweden. ...continue reading "Chronic Wasting Disease Is Spreading In the United States"

Another health benefit of coffee! A study found that daily consumption of a few cups of coffee was associated with longer survival and a lower risk of cancer worsening in persons with metastatic colon cancer. These benefits held for both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. This is a big deal because metastatic colon (colorectal) cancer only has a 5 year survival rate of 14%.

A group of researchers throughout the US found that in 1171 patients being treated for metastatic colorectal cancer, those who reported drinking 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day were more likely to live longer, and had a longer time before their disease worsened - as compared to people who didn't drink coffee. And those drinking more than 4 cups a day (either decaf or regular) had even greater benefits.

Coffee's benefits may be due to its ability to decrease blood insulin levels (it increases insulin sensitivity of tissues), as well as the chemical compounds in coffee having antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiangiogenic(anti-blood vessel growth in tumors) effects. It appears that many of the beneficial effects appear to be not from caffeine, but from the chemical compounds in coffee. [Note: avoid caffeinated coffee during pregnancy - then it is linked to health problems.]

By the way, there are many studies showing that colon cancer is linked to diet and lifestyle. Best is to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes (beans, lentils). One especially eye-opening study compared the effects of an American high-fat, low fiber diet with a typical low-fat, high fiber diet of South Africa - and found dramatic changes in the colon (specifically in the colonic mucosa) from dietary changes in as little as 2 weeks. Their conclusion: Fiber feeds beneficial microbes in the gut, which results in beneficial changes in the gut (in the mucosa of the colon).

Excerpts from Medical Xpress: Coffee associated with improved survival in metastatic colorectal cancer patients

In a large group of patients with metastatic colorectal cancer, consumption of a few cups of coffee a day was associated with longer survival and a lower risk of the cancer worsening, researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and other organizations report in a new study. ...continue reading "Drinking Coffee Appears To Be Beneficial For Those With Colon Cancer"

Word wildlife numbers are catastrophically plummeting - an average of 68% decline in almost 21,000 wildlife populations between 1970 and 2016 (46 years). Two thirds of all wildlife! This is the conclusion of the Living Planet Report 2020, a collaboration between World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International and the Zoological Society of London.

Humans are to blame for the decline.

This catastrophic decline is largely due to environmental destruction (such as deforestation, agricultural expansion, and the illegal wildlife trade), habitat loss, and degradation. The report includes a Living Planet Index (LPI) - which tracks trends in global wildlife abundance, as well as contributions from more than 125 experts from around the world.

The report goes on to say that the kinds of steep wildlife population decreases the Earth has seen in recent decades have not been seen for millions of years. It outlines steps that should be immediately taken to stop wildlife declines from progressing further and resulting in extinctions and destruction of ecosystems. One obvious step is stopping further habitat loss. But will this actually happen?

The United Nations warned this year: "Protecting biodiversity amounts to protecting humanity." WWF agrees: "... nature is unraveling and our planet is flashing red warning signs of systems failure."

From phys.org: World wildlife plummets more than two-thirds in 50 years: index

Global animal, bird and fish populations have plummeted more than two-thirds in less than 50 years due to rampant over-consumption, experts said Thursday in a stark warning to save nature in order to save ourselves.  ...continue reading "We Are To Blame For the Loss of Two Thirds Of All Wildlife In the Last 50 Years"